The #EndSARS protests which rocked the country for two weeks turned violent last week with episodes of jailbreaks and lootings reported across the country.
For more than a week, the demonstrations staged against the notorious police unit, Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) across major cities were peaceful until protesters were attacked by security officials and the protests were hijacked by thugs.
Taking advantage of the protests, armed men broke into three Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) facilities in Edo and Ondo states while a similar attempt was foiled in Lagos State.
So far, a total of 2,051 inmates escaped after the jailbreaks in Edo and Ondo states.
Hoodlums in the guise of #EndSARS protesters stormed the facility in Oko, also known as the Oko prison on Monday.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the prison authorities first had an inkling of what was to come as early as 9 a.m. on Monday and called for reinforcement, but none came despite two other repeated attempts.
The 9 a.m. attempt to break into the jail was repelled, according to West Amayo, deputy comptroller of correction in charge of Oko prison.
Mr Amayo, who explained how the incident happened to Governor Obaseki and his fact-finding team, said the armed thugs returned at about 11.30 a.m. but were again repelled before they came in full force at about 1.30 p.m. where they succeeded in overpowering the armed prison officers, who ran out of ammunition.
Several prison officers were said to have sustained gunshot wounds while the records department and other ancillary units in the administrative section of the prison were completely vandalised and burnt.
Also, on the same Wednesday, the Benin prison located along the Benin-Sapele Road was attacked by hoodlums.
The manager of the facility, Andrew Egbobawaye, who conducted Mr Obaseki around the facility, said the armed protesters took them by surprise.
According to the prison authorities, a total of 1,993 inmates escaped from the two facilities after Monday’s jailbreaks.
However, Babayo Maisanda, comptroller of correction, Edo State Command, disclosed that 1,818 escaped inmates were still at large, while 163 have either been recaptured or secured.
However, the state governor, Godwin Obaseki, after declaring a 24-hour curfew to salvage the crisis, gave a two-day ultimatum to the remaining 1,818 inmates still at large to return to the facilities or face the full wrath of the law.
On Thursday, some thugs broke into the Nigerian Correctional Service facility in Okitipupa local government of Ondo State and released no fewer than 58 inmates while they burnt some vehicles.
They also destroyed many properties belonging to the prison and injured the staff on the premises.
The arsonists also touched the Akeredolu Aiyedatiwa campaign organisation office in Akure and some police stations.
In response to the incidence of violence, the state government immediately declared a 24-hour curfew.
Foiled attempt in Lagos
Unlike the situation in Edo and Ondo states, the jailbreak in Lagos was not successful.
On Thursday, a combined team of correctional officers and soldiers foiled the attempted jailbreak at Ikoyi Prison in Lagos.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that some prisoners were shot as some of them tried to breach the gate of the prison.
An inmate inside the prison, who was not part of those trying to escape, sent this newspaper audio recordings and messages describing the attempts by some prisoners to escape from the prison.
This newspaper also obtained video footage of the attempted breakout from a resident who lives close to the prison.
An NCoS spokesperson said officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) Lagos State command and other security operatives ensured the jailbreak was foiled.
Security experts and public affairs analysts who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES raised concerns over the multiple jailbreaks.
“It has serious national security implications because some of them are hardened criminals. Some of them are condemned criminals while some are awaiting trial. It is expected that crime will increase,” Timothy Avele, a security expert said.
Mr Avele opined that the ultimatum issued by the state governments may not have any impact, except it is met with serious actions.
“Ordinary pronouncement may not work. Nobody is going to do anything for free. Assuming there is clemency for them, perhaps if you were to serve 20 years, it will be reduced. Except those awaiting trial, those on a death row, I doubt if they will come back except the government takes action.”
A constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Nkem Okoro, said Nigerians should not be subjected to any nightmarish experience in the hands of convicts who escaped from the prisons.
He called on the government to take proactive steps. “The time to act is now. To prevent further loss of lives and properties, in the hands of the real and convicted criminals.”
Mr Okoro further stated that the jailbreaks should serve as a wake-up call to the Nigerian government to beef up security and reform the prisons in Nigeria.
“This recent prison break across the country should serve as a wakeup call to the executive arm of government, to commence a total reformation of the prisons in Nigeria. The change of name alone cannot bring about the desired change.
“It should also serve as a signal to the executive arm of government that there is a need to beef up security in the prisons across the country. A situation where we have just a few armed guards in charge of every prison in Nigeria is not acceptable. The government should do something as a matter of grave urgency to ensure adequate provision of security at the prisons to forestall future prison breaks,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
Another rights activist, Festus Ogun, said the incessant jailbreaks should give Nigerians cause to worry.
“The jailbreaks look too organised and strategic to be overlooked. Indeed, the situation calls for reasonable suspicion. Nigerians must ask hard questions. Something is fishy and the government needs to give the people some answers.”
Speaking on the implications, Mr Ogun said the jailbreaks pose a threat to society.
“The prison walls ordinarily serve the purpose of keeping away citizens who pose a threat to society; murderers, armed robbers, terrorists, arsonists, rapists, fraudsters, to mention a few. To now have a situation where these elements would return to the society, albeit unlawfully, would spell nothing other than disaster. The government is respectfully urged to get them back to the prison, for the safety of the society.”
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